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Jocelynn Drake - Dark Days 01 - Nightwalker

By Veronica Adams,2014-10-29 12:49
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Jocelynn Drake - Dark Days 01 - Nightwalker

    Table of Contents

    -One

    -Two

    -Three

    -Four

    -Five

    -Six

    -Seven

    -Eight

    -Nine

    -Ten

    -Eleven

    -Twelve

    -Thirteen

    -Fourteen

    -Fifteen

    -Sixteen

    -Seventeen

    -Eighteen

    -Nineteen

    -Twenty

    -Twenty-One-Twenty-Two-Twenty-Three-Twenty-Four-Twenty-Five-Twenty-Six-Twenty-Seven-Twenty-Eight-Twenty-Nine-Acknowledgments

    -About the Author

    Nightwalker

    The First Dark Days Novel

    Jocelynn Drake

    ?

    To Mom and Dad

    You believed in me first.

    ?

    One

    ?

    ?

    His name was Danaus.

    And what I remember most were his eyes. I saw them first by lamplight; a flicker of dark cobalt

    as he paused a distance from me. His eyes were the color sapphires were meant to be, a grim

    sparkle of pigment. I stared at those eyes, willing time to slow down as I slipped into those

    still, stygian depths. But it wasn't the waters of the Styx I swam in, but a cool lagoon ofLethe where I bathed in a moment of oblivion.

    He stopped on the deserted street outside the edge of a pale pool of light thrown down by awrought-iron lamp, his eyes darting up and down the empty expanse. He drew in a deep breath. Ithink he could sense me watching from some perch but could not peg my exact location. His righthand flexed once at his side, and to my surprise he stepped forward into the light, his nightvision momentarily destroyed; taunting me with the bait he dangled before my eyes.

    I slowly ran my tongue over my teeth. Not only was he impressive to look at, but there was aconfidence about him that begged my attention. I was half tempted to step away from the shadowof the chimney and allow the moon to outline my slim form. But I hadn't survived for more thansix centuries by making careless mistakes. Balanced on the ridgepole of the three-story houseacross from him, I watched as he continued down the street. His black leather duster flared ashe walked, snapping at his heels like a chained wolf forced to follow its master.

    The truth was, I had watched him for more than a month. He'd blown into my territory like acold wind and wasted no time destroying my kind. In the past weeks he had killed nearly half adozen of my brethren. Almost all had been fledglings, with less than a century to cut theirteeth upon, but it was still more than any other had dared.

    And these killings had not been spineless daylight stakings. He hunted each nightwalker underthe caress of moonlight. I had even watched some of these battles from a hidden perch andbarely kept from applauding when he knelt, bloody, over each of his prey, cutting out theheart. He was speed and cunning. And the nightwalkers were bloated on their own inflated senseof power. I was the Keeper of this domain, entrusted with protecting our secret; not protectingthose who could not protect themselves.

    After weeks of watching my would-be prey, I thought it was time for formal introductions. Iknew who he was. More than just another Nosferatu hunter. Something wonderfully more, with avibrant power all his own. I wanted a taste of that power before he died.

    And he knew of me. In their final seconds some of the weak ones had mewled my name, hoping myidentity would buy them a last second reprieve. It hadn't.

    I sped silently along the rooftops, leaping over the gaps and landing with the sure-footedgrace of a cat. Slipping past him and down two more blocks to the outer edge of the historicdistrict, I stopped at an abandoned home with a widow's walk and worn red brick that wouldserve as a nice meeting place. Its single turret and dark windows gazed out toward the riverlike a silent soldier.

    The night air was warm and thick despite the fact that we hadn't had any rain for more than twoweeks, leaving the brown lawns struggling from yet another rough summer. Even the cricketsseemed to put forth only a halfhearted effort with their chirping, burdened by the oppressiveheat. The light breeze that blew in from the sea carried with it more moisture, thickening theair until it carried a weight all its own. I had come to Savannah more than a century ago,seeking anonymity, an escape from the world that had consumed me for nearly five hundred years.I loved Savannah's grace and history, the ghosts that seemed to haunt every shadowy corner andrambling house. Yet I could do without her oppressive summers. I'd spent too many years incooler climes.

    The abandoned house was half hidden behind enormous oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, as ifguarded by a pair of grand dames swathed in antique lace. The front of the property was linedwith a tall, spike iron fence ending in a pair of stone pillars that flanked the path up to thehouse. I sat on the top of the left pillar with my legs crossed, waiting for him. The subtlethrob of my powers tumbled from my body. I wanted him to follow the trail until he came to me,like the pied piper trilling his merry tune for the children of Hamelin.

    Danaus stopped when he reached the edge of the property to my left and stared at me. Yes, itwas brazen, and maybe even a little overconfident on my part, but I didn't want him to grow toosure of himself. He would have to work for his blood tonight.

    With a slow smile, I rolled off the pillar, disappearing behind the spike fence and into thedeeper shadows of the overgrown yard. I cut through the air as if I were made of the night,disappearing through an open window on the second floor at the back of the house.

    Waiting in a former bedroom, I listened. Anticipation coiled in my stomach, my body tinglingwith the thrill of the hunt, so rarely had I the chance to pit myself against something thatcould actually destroy me. I'd killed my share of human hunters, but they hadn't been a realchallenge, waving their silver crosses about and praying to a god they had abandoned until thatmoment of final judgment. After so many long centuries, there were too few ways in which tofeel that rush, to dance along the razor's edge and remember, even if only for a breath, whatit had meant to be alive. Danaus would help me remember.

    This hunter was different. He was as human as I was. His body was only a shell, barely capableof restraining the power that seemed to pour from him like a river.

    Downstairs, the front door exploded open, banging against the wall. I smiled; he knew I washere waiting for him. I strode across the hardwood floor, moving into the master bedroom, theheels of my boots echoing through the empty house. Now he knew exactly where I was, too.

    Peace, Mira, I reminded myself. No reason to rush this. You haven't hunted him for more than amonth to snap his neck in a careless moment.

    No, I would put an end to his destruction of my race and enjoy it as I did so.

    Once in the bedroom, my steps quieted until I didn't make a sound as I crossed to the far sideof the room. I leaned into the empty corner, letting the shadows fold around me like a cloak,falling into the darkness that had long whispered secrets of the night and death. Around me theold house creaked and sighed as we both waited.

    Danaus finally appeared in the doorway, his shoulders so wide they nearly brushed the sides ofthe entry. I stood silent for a moment, enjoying the slow, even rise and fall of his chest. Hewas perfectly calm. He was tall, maybe six feet, with raven black hair that hung wild to hisshoulders. His cheekbones were high and his jaw strong and hard like granite. Along the way hehad shed his black coat, and his right hand gripped a six-inch silver blade that caught themoonlight.

    "You are the one they call Danaus," I said. My voice slithered out from the shadows while mybody remained hidden. His head jerked toward me, his eyes slits of blue in the darkness. "Theysay you killed Jabari in old Thebes."

    I stepped forward, the shadows sliding their arms about my body, and paced across the room sohe could see me clearly for the first time. In the soft light that poured through the windows,my pale skin glowed like white marble. I moved no closer to him, giving him a chance to size meup.

    "But you missed Valerio in Vienna," I said, curiosity lifting my voice. "And Yuri waits for youin St. Petersburg, though he is not half as old as Jabari."

    "There's still time." His voice was like a growl in the back of his throat.

    I paused, staring at him for a moment. I couldn't place the accent, and I'd heard many over thecenturies. It was old, very old. Not nearly as old as Jabari's Egyptian lilt, but somethingthat hadn't been uttered in ages. It would be something to ponder, but I had more pressingqueries.

    "Maybe," I conceded with a slight nod. "But instead you came to the New World. While I may beone of the oldest here, I am far younger than Valerio. Why travel such a distance?"

    "Aren't you called the Fire Starter'?"

    I laughed, a deep throaty sound that curled through the air and brushed like a warm handagainst his cheek. The ability to touch another with your voice was an old trick that camenaturally to some nightwalkers. It had few real uses, but was great for unnerving youropponent. Danaus shifted from one foot to the other, but his expression never changed.

    "Among other things." I walked back toward the opposite wall, but this time I moved a few stepscloser to him. His muscles tightened but he didn't step backward. It was enough for me to brushagainst the circle of power that enveloped him, rubbing against my bare skin like warm silk. Italso gave him a better taste of my own power. By the time I reached my original corner,something had changed in his eyes.

    "You were at the Bonaventure cemetery three nights ago," he said.

    "Yes." The word came out a whispered hiss.

    "I killed two vampires that night." He said it as if it should have explained everything.

    "So? Since entering my territory a month ago, you have killed five nightwalkers."

    "Why didn't you try to stop me?"

     Were we both truly this arrogant? II chuckled softly, with a slight shake of my head. Try.

    lifted my shoulders in an indifferent shrug. "They were not mine to protect."

    "But they were vampires."

    "They were fledglings without a master," I corrected him. Pushing off the wall, I started towalk toward him. "A master you killed more than a week ago." Of course, I'd been planning tokill Riley myself, but Danaus beat me to it. Riley had been expanding his own little familywithout my permission, and a balance had to be maintained in order to preserve our secret.

    Danaus moved, mirroring me as he stepped out of the doorway. He turned so his back was to thewall as we circled each other. His steps were graceful and fluid, like a dance. The knottightened again in my stomach and my body hummed with energy.

    I took a single step forward, testing him, and Danaus lashed out with his right hand. Jerkingaway, I kept the blade from slashing at my face. Yet, he surprised me when he immediately spunback around, lifting his left hand to reveal a Saracen blade curving up the length of his arm.His first move had been a feint to get me to expose my throat. I dropped into a spin kick,clipping one of his feet before he could move. The hunter stumbled as he backed away, butremained standing. Balanced on the balls of my feet, I pressed my fingers to the dusty hardwoodfloor.

    "Nice sword. Gaelic runes?" I inquired, as if making idle small talk, but my eyes were lockedon him. The hand holding the sword tightened. It was an exquisite blade, with a line of runesetched down the side. I couldn't read them, but I would have wagered that they were more thanjust decoration.

    He grunted, which I took for an affirmation to my question.

    "Thanks for not coming at me with a stake," I said, standing. He looked at me, his darkeyebrows briefly meeting over the bridge of his nose. "It's so cliché." The right corner of hismouth twitched before he could stop it.

    "You would have set it on fire," he said stiffly.

    "True." I waited a heartbeat, then crossed the distance between us, hitting him in the chestwith both hands. Air exploded from his lungs. The blow threw both of his arms involuntarilyforward as he stumbled back. I kicked out with my right foot, hitting his left hand. The impactloosened his grip and sent the scimitar spinning across the floor, to clatter against the farwall. Unfortunately, he recovered faster than I expected and swung his right arm forward,grazing my cheek with the dagger.

    The unexpected stab of pain screamed through me, and I jerked back out of arm's reach. I hissedat him, fangs bared, my body hunched as if prepared to spring. Yeah, I know. The hiss was evenmore cliché than a wooden stake, but the grating sound erupted from my throat before I couldthink about it, let alone come up with something a little more civilized. I'm 603 years old,not an Ancient.

    Again I forced myself to stand and relax. Danaus drew in a few ragged gulps of air before hisbreathing evened out. Breathing would be painful for a while, but at least he still could. Ilifted my left hand to my cheek and then moved my fingers into my line of sight; my eyes never

    leaving his tense form. Blood covered two fingers. Slowly, I licked them, letting the coppertaste coat my tongue. The pain in my cheek was already gone and I could feel the wound closing.In another moment there would only be a smear of blood.

    That bit of blood had been enough. The taste lit the lust, sending it burning through my veins.Sure, it had been my blood, but it was all the same; vampire, human, and even whatever Danauswas. It all pulsed with power from the soul, the very essence of life, and I knew this time itwould be his I tasted.

    I rushed him again, but Danaus was ready. He swung the blade at me, once again going for mythroat. I easily caught his hand. He swung his left fist at my face. I batted it away.Squeezing his right hand, I tried to force him to drop the dagger without breaking his hand,but despite the pain, he wouldn't drop it. Out of the corner of my eye I saw his left hand gofor another weapon at his side.

    "Fine." The single word escaped in a growl as I grabbed his left wrist. I swept my leg beneathhis, throwing us both down. Lying on top of him, I pinned both of his hands against the floor.Sure, he was heavier than me, but even with all his muscles, I was still stronger. Vampirismhas its perks. Sliding along his body, my leather pants slipped along his legs until I wasstraddling him. I smiled down at him, rubbing against the hard bulge in his pants. He didn'tcarry a gun. Unless you put a shotgun in our mouths and pulled the trigger, you really couldn'tkill a nightwalker with a gun. It generally didn't even slow us down.

    "I thought you were glad to see me," I purred, unable to keep the laughter from my voice.Danaus glared at me, his eyes hardening into cold gems. I knew better. The violence turned himon, not me. The thrill of the hunt.

    He stared at me, his mind turning over thoughts I wished I could hear. Something about mebothered him. Sure, I was beautiful, but all nightwalkers were a pretty face and a nice body.If his attention was that easy to catch, he would have been dead long ago.

    The question that flickered in his eyes was the only reason I think he had not actually triedto kill me yet. We'd taken a few nice stabs at each other, but no killing blows. The otherfights I watched had been quick. Each of his attacks were precise and efficient, planned to endthe battle and take down the nightwalker. Maybe we were still sizing each other up, enjoyingthe building tension, but it felt like there was more hanging unsaid in the ether.

    With my hands still locked on his wrists, I pulled backward, lowering my face until my chinrested on his sternum, my eyes locked with his. I could feel the muscles in his body tightenbeneath me, but he didn't jerk or try to throw me off. Despite the fact that my lips werebarely an inch from his chest, I couldn't bite him at that angle. We both knew this, so he laystill, waiting.

    Drawing in a deep breath, I let his scent fill me. I could smell sweat and that certain muskyscent of man, but there was more, the wind, a distant sea, and best of all, the sun. The scentwas so strong I could taste it, conjuring up ancient memories of basking naked in the middayheat.

    I needed to get off of him, to put some distance between us. I was becoming giddy on his poweras it wrapped its arms around my cool flesh. Giddy, along with other things I knew would serveus no good tonight, except maybe kill him a little faster. And I so wanted to do this slowly,to enjoy the fight that he offered.

    "I didn't come here to destroy you," he said, his voice rolling through the silent room like arumble of distant thunder.

    A bubble of laughter escaped me as I moved forward so my face hovered above his. "And that issupposed to stop me from killing you? You come into my territory, kill my people, and then yousay you're not here to destroy me. No, Danaus, I plan to dig around inside of you to find outwhere that little ball of power is hiding." I smiled at him, broadly enough to expose my fangs.

    Danaus was moving before I even had a chance to react, rolling so he was now on top of me. ButI was still holding his wrists. I pushed him backward, throwing him off me and across the room.

    The hunter landed on his back and slid a couple of feet. When he was standing again, I was onthe other side of the room.

    I leaned back into the corner, balanced on my heels, with my shoulders braced against the twowalls. After letting his warm powers wash over me, I forced myself to slow down. I had neverencountered a creature with powers that felt like his. We had acquired a new, dark threat. Ineeded to discover who or what he was, and if there were more like him. We had not spentcountless centuries fighting, and finally defeating, the naturi, only to find ourselves facedwith a new foe. One free to walk about in the daylight hours.

    I forced a laugh, sending the sound dancing around the room until it finally skipped out theopen window to my right. My laughter seemed to put him more on edge than my straddling him. Ormaybe it was the fact that he had enjoyed being pinned. I doubted he'd ever allowed anynightwalker get that close to him without putting up a fight.

    Staring at him now, something else caught my eye. "Where's your cross, Danaus?" I called acrossthe distance, hooking my thumbs on the front pockets of my leather pants. "All good huntershave a cross dangling about their necks. Where's yours?"

    "How can you control fire?" he demanded. His face was grim and half hidden in the shadow of hishair as it fell forward. "It's forbidden." He took a wary step forward, the gritty floorcrunching under his foot.

    I gracefully rolled to my feet, as if I was a marionette pulled up by my strings. There wasnothing human about the movement, and I was pleased to see it still unnerved him even after allhis years of hunting us. He took a half step back before he could stop himself, his frowndeepening.

    "Forbidden?" I repeated. "Has someone written a book of rules on nightwalkers that I don't knowabout?" Information. Could that be the reason he had come hacking and slashing into my domain?He was curious and seeking information?

    "No vampire has ever been able to control fire."

    "Few have ever hunted us without the protection of a silver cross," I countered.

    Danaus stared hard at me. I had a feeling he would have growled at me, but I think he wasleaving the animal-like noises to me. He turned the knife handle around in his hand, weighinghis options. How important was this information to him? Enough that he would finally be forcedto divulge some of his own? Of course, he could then kill me and that would be the end of it.

    When the hunter spoke again, the words seemed dragged from his throat. "A cross cannot protectone who is already damned to Hell."

    A dozen new questions rushed to my lips, but I had my answer and knew he wouldn't willinglygive up any more. At least, not without my answer to his question, and I was willing to play,for now.

    "We all have our gifts," I said with a shrug. "Yuri can call wolves to his side. Seraf canraise the dead."

    "But fire&" His voice drifted off.

    "Doesn't quite seem fair," I said. "The one thing that is supposed to kill us all, and I amcompletely immune. But it has nothing to do with being a nightwalker. I could control firebefore I was reborn. Somehow, I retained the gift."

    "Like the naturi," he murmured.

    "I am nothing like the naturi!" My temper flared to life instantly and I took a step toward himwith my fangs bared. All I saw was a quick flick of his wrist, faster than I had ever seen anyhuman move. But that was my fault. I was still thinking of him as human.

    The blade flashed for half a second in the moonlight before burying itself in my chest. Istumbled backward, my back slamming into the wall behind me as my hand closed around the knife.It was an inch below my heart, clipping the side of my left lung. With his skill, I guessed hemissed my heart on purpose. Even a blow to the heart wouldn't have necessarily killed me, but

    weakened me enough so he could stroll over and take my head off. It was supposed to be awarning, and if I wasn't so angry, I might have heeded it.

    I pulled the dagger from my chest, gritting my teeth as it rubbed against bone and sliced moremuscle and flesh. Pressing my left hand against the wound, I tried to slow the flow of blood asit moved like warm fingers down my stomach. The dagger fell from my fingers and clattered tothe floor. The sound echoed through the house like shot across an empty plain. I glared at him,finding he had already pulled another knife and held it clenched in his right fist, waiting forme.

    This time I walked across the room. I wanted him to see me coming. The movement pulled andtwisted the cut in my chest as the flesh struggled to mend. I'd worry about that later. I keptthe faint smile on my face, burying the scream of pain deep in my chest.

    He slashed at me with the same speed he'd thrown the knife, but I expected it as I watched thetwitch and flex of muscles play below his skin. I knocked his hand away, feeling the crack ofbone in his wrist as my arm connected. The knife fell to the floor as his fingers spasmed underthe flash of pain. He kicked out with his left leg, trying to keep a safe distance between us,but I caught his leg with my right hand and threw him back into the wall. I grabbed his arms,slamming them against the drywall with enough force to dent the surface, keeping them raisedabove his head. My left hand pressed a bloody handprint into his forearm, and I crushed my bodyagainst his with enough force that he grunted. I was done playing nice.

    I was shorter than him even in heels, but I could still reach his neck without tiptoeing. Ismiled, displaying my fangs. His heart skipped faster, pounding against my chest with itsintoxicating warmth. His scent came back to me, the sweet kiss of the wind sweeping over darkwaters and the bright sun.

    "What are you, Danaus?" I whispered, peering into his eyes. His lips were pressed into a firm,tight line. He was furious. I smiled and leaned into him, close enough that he could feel mywords caress the tender flesh of his neck. This time he struggled, muscles straining up anddown his body as he tried to rid himself of me, but he was trapped. In a battle of strength, heknew he couldn't win.

    My breath brushed across his ear. "It doesn't matter." My lips dipped down to graze his neck,and I could feel a chill skitter across his sweaty flesh. "You'll tell me one day. Before I'mthrough, you'll even trust me."

    I released him and jumped backward, landing easily on the other side of the room. No reason togive him another chance to put a knife in my chest. I had a feeling that this time he wouldn'tmiss. I stared into his eyes, and there it was this time: fear. A deeper look of uncertaintyand doubt. I had finally shaken him down to his core; touched something no one else had. Itmade him infinitely more dangerous, but then again, I had just become infinitely more dangerousto him, threatening him with something far more horrible than a painful death.

    "We're not finished," he said, one hand holding his fractured wrist.

    "Oh, you're right. We're not finished by a long shot, but tonight's fun is over," I announced,tilting my head to the side.

    "I didn't come here to kill you."

    "Really?"

    One corner of his mouth jerked into a half smile as he watched me. "Not this time."

    "Just remember that your business is with me. Touch another nightwalker and you'll be deadbefore you even know I'm there." I let my hands fall to my sides, palms facing him. Drops offire tumbled from my fingertips like water. The flames pooled at my feet for a moment, thenshot out like something alive, surging toward the walls and across the hardwood floors. Myeyelids drifted lower until my eyes were barely open. I could see him watching me, but my focuswas on the fire that had slipped down through the floor and was quickly seeking out both of theexits.

    With one last smile I darted out the open window to my right and landed in the yard. I joggedacross the lawn and only paused to look back when I was in the middle of the street. The housewas engulfed in brilliant orange and yellow flames. I knew he would get out. Men like Danausdidn't die so easily. I was half tempted to remain behind to see him run from the building, butthere wasn't time. The night had grown old and I needed to feed to replace the blood he'dspilled tonight. I would finish killing the hunter later.

    ?

    ?

    Two

    ?

    ?

    The sand has run out on more than six centuries for me. I have seen the rise and fall ofkingdoms, the discovery of new lands and peoples, and acts of cruelty by humans that chill evenmy cold blood. But across the ages and changing face of man, I have to admit that the twenty-first century is by far my favorite. In these times, people can shed their past and appearancelike a snake slithering free of its dead skin. The world is covered in a new Technicolor facadethat has been built over the old realm, blotting out the sky and the earth.

    Now there is no need to stalk my victims through dark alleyways and gaze down from hiddenrooftops. Lost souls dot the landscape like daisies, waiting for me to pluck them up withpromises of release. They stare up at me with empty eyes and broken hearts like I am theirsaving angel. I slip into their lives to deliver them briefly from an existence that has nodirection or greater meaning.

    In an effort to blot out this vast void, these poor people have decided to fill it again withthe primitive. In the dark corners and hidden clubs, the comfortable mask of civilization hasbeen ripped away and they indulge in a feast for the senses. This new age of decadence hasthese creatures drowning in a wellspring of sensations, bathing in new tastes and smells. Butmy favorite is the glorious sense of touch. No matter where I go, there always seem to be handsreaching out to caress, to fondle, and to connect.

    After centuries of covering our flesh from the tops of our heads to the soles of our feet,clothes have shrunk and become a type of second skin. In fact, I've never seen a people with agreater fascination with leather. That wonderful material has been cut, stretched, and stitchedinto so many amazing shapes that it can now cover every inch of the body or just the socialessentials.

    Upon waking with the sinking sun, I decided to go to one of my favorite haunts not far from theriver. The Docks was an old, derelict building that had been converted into a nightclub. Istrolled through the city streets, enjoying the warm caress of a late July breeze. The areahummed and throbbed with life. It was a Friday night and people were rushing toward onedistraction or another. Weaving through the random herds of people gathered here and there, Ilistened to the steady cadence of my heels clicking against the cracked and dirty sidewalk,echoing up the sides of the flat brick buildings that lined the city landscape.

    At the corner, I paused. I had been about to turn north when I sensed a nightwalker at ForsythPark. This giant green space lies in the historical district, dominated by a great whitefountain bathed in the glow of yellow lights. Among the various races, Forsyth was a type ofdemilitarized zone. Within the boundaries of the park, there was no hunting, no fighting, andno spell casting. Anyone who broke this truce forfeited his or her life. It was here that mostof my kind requested meetings with me. Of course, I could ignore the request. Unfortunately,the young nightwalker's tension was thick in my thoughts and polluting the air. Such thingswere never good for keeping the peace.

    Threading an errant lock of red hair behind my ear, I continued west to the white fountain thatrose up in the center of the park. The night was thick with the scent of flowers thatoverflowed from their beds. Despite the ongoing drought, this favored spot was well-tended bycity officials, determined to maintain its verdant perfection. The soft splash of water hittingstone danced in the air, nearly overwhelming the steady swish of cars headed toward the hotspots along River Street.

    Joseph lounged on the low marble wall surrounding the fountain. His long legs were extended andcrossed at the ankles. He wore a pair of dark dress slacks and a burgundy dress shirt open atthe throat. Barely more than twenty years old, Joseph was still a baby among my kind. He hadbeen a member of Riley's flock, but at least was brought over with my approval. Only recentlyhad Riley begun creating nightwalkers with careless abandon. Since Riley's demise, Joseph stuckto the outskirts of my domain, determined to find his own way. He had also been wise enough toavoid me. I didn't tolerate the young well.

    "This isn't your part of town," I said as I entered the park. He slid easily to his feet, butanxiety tightened like a rubber band in his frame. I could feel his emotions as clearly as ifthey were my own. Older vampires learned to shut the door of their mind. Joseph was stillstruggling.

    To make matters worse, I had surprised him. I shouldn't have been able to, but his attentionwas divided at the moment. There was only one thing I could think of that would drive afledgling vampire to seek me out: Danaus.

    "The symphony lets out in a few minutes. I thought I'd visit with the blue bloods tonight," hesaid. He shoved his hands in his pockets, trying to affect a casual stance, but his legs werespaced wide apart, ready to run or fight.

    "Running low on funds?"

    Other than a slight twitch of his right eye, his bored expression never wavered. We all startedout that way, a mix of bloodsucker and pickpocket. Most didn't appreciate being reminded of it.Joseph's normal hunting grounds were the narrow strip that housed most of the nightclubs aswell as the scattering of bars not far from the university. Aesthetically speaking, those areaswere more pleasing to the eye and generally more entertaining. Unfortunately, the college crowdwasn't the greatest source of income.

    "We're not all as lucky as you," he said.

    "Everything comes with a price." I strolled closer, vaguely aware of the scattering of peoplespread about the area. However, none were close enough to overhear our conversation. The steadyrush of traffic flowing past us also kept our words muffled against the curious. I stoppedbefore him, gazing into his hazel eyes. The gentle tug of his powers teased at my mind as hetried to enthrall me. He couldn't help it. He had not yet learned to control it. Humans wouldfall to his every whim, but if he encountered anything else, it would most likely rip histhroat out in irritation.

    I ran my left hand up his chest and was starting to wrap it around his throat when he jerkedaway. It was an instinctive move, showing a distinct lack of trust. I had to only arch oneeyebrow at him in question before he returned to my side, tilting his head to offer up histhroat. Seizing his neck, I forced him to sit back on the low wall.

    "You are pressing your luck." I struggled to keep from gritting my teeth as I spoke, keeping mycool, patient facade in place for any onlookers.

    "The truce," he said, reminding me needlessly that we were still standing in the park.

    I smiled down at him, exposing my pearly white fangs. "The truce keeps us from fighting. Itdoes not save you from punishment." Beneath my hand the muscles in his neck stiffened as a newfear entered his mind. His hands tightened their grip on the rim of the fountain.

    The life of a nightwalker was about power and control. Those at the top of the food chain hadall the power and wielded absolute control over anything below. Those weaker had to bow or bebroken.

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